In this tough economy, the San Francisco Unified School District is taking a chance by placing a $531 million bond measure to upgrade schools on the November ballot. Over-taxed San Franciscans might decide to take a pass this time around after having approved a $295 million school bond in 2003 and a $450 million school bond in 2006.
But there are several reasons why voters should approve Proposition A, beginning with the likelihood that it will help increase property values. The better the schools, the better it is for home prices. As a result, the $100-plus increase in property tax for a $500,000 house could be more than offset by the gain in value.
The bond measure also deserves support as a matter of fairness. In 2003 the school district launched a three-phase plan to upgrade The City’s schools. The 2003 bond paid for modernization projects at 30 school sites, all of which have been completed within budget and on schedule. The 2006 bond is in the process of modernizing 64 buildings, projects that are also on time and within budget.
But there are still more than 50 school buildings needing improvements. Allowing them to remain in a state of disrepair and without seismic upgrades would be an injustice to thousands of children, teachers and staff.
The improvements include fixing damaged items and removing hazardous materials, repairing and replacing worn-out building systems, improving accessibility for people with disabilities and repairing and building playgrounds and fields. Aesthetic improvements have converted drab institutions into attractive, user-friendly spaces.
The Libertarian Party of San Francisco has filed ballot arguments in opposition to Proposition A, some of which sound good but lack merit.
The party argues that the school district always has money for administrators’ six-figure salaries and generous benefits but defers maintenance in order “to blackmail voters into approving bond measures lest children be stuck in decrepit schools.” We share the concern about bloated government compensation, but the current district budget is $343 million. If no salaries or benefits were paid to any teachers, staff or administrators for a year, the district would still be $188 million short of what’s needed to upgrade the remaining schools.
The Libertarians also argue that bonds are for major expenses like constructing new school buildings. But they ignore the fact that San Francisco has some of the oldest school buildings in the state, resulting in major expenses to repair and upgrade them, as the nearly $1.3 billion in the three bond measures attests.
Even the Libertarians concede “that the schools should be in good condition and that the facilities should be safe and completely functional.” That’s all that Proposition A is designed to do. The school board points out in its ballot statement, “This is a critical step to ensure that ALL our children have safe, healthy, attractive, and universally accessible environments to learn and thrive.”
San Francisco voters have been generous in the past for the children’s sake, and we expect they will do so again.